Troubled seafood plant asks governor for aid

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The struggling Alaska Seafood International manufacturing plant in Anchorage is asking for millions of state dollars and subsidies to stay afloat.

ASI is asking for $100,000 a month to pay utility, insurance and other costs associated with the upkeep of the state-owned building the company occupies. The business also wants the state to defer the $360,000 monthly rent payments on the 202,000-square-foot building for another nine months.

Doug Bell, chief operating officer for ASI, also is asking for a piece of the $50 million salmon industry marketing and revitalization plan Gov. Frank Murkowski announced in April. Most of the money in that program comes from federal sources.

The state aid is important to sustain the fish factory, which has finally begun to throw off its troubles and scratch out a viable business, Bell told the Anchorage Daily News.

''If the state doesn't support it, doesn't offer some degree of support, what message does that send to people who want to invest in the state?'' he said. ''Does it send the message that manufacturing isn't possible in the state of Alaska?''

In recent weeks, Murkowski has twice toured the largely empty factory building.

Money and management troubles have dogged ASI since its beginnings in the late 1990s. Today it employs about 50 people making value-added seafood products such as battered and seasoned salmon, cod and halibut portions. The original vision was for 450 employees.

Besides building and owning the $50 million factory, the state itself owns a minority share of ASI, having pitched in millions of dollars in cash and rent breaks as part of several financial restructurings. ASI's majority owner is Sunrise Capital Partners, a New York company that specializes in turning around distressed businesses.

John Manly, spokesman for Murkowski, said he had seen letters sent by Bell. He said the governor had ''a lot on his plate'' with the legislative session wrapping up this week, plus health problems that still had Murkowski in a Seattle hospital Monday.

''Obviously, the governor is not going to be making any pronouncements about the plant anytime soon,'' Manly said. ''I think he's very concerned about the debt service on it and the fact that it's very underutilized.''

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